Reconsidering the exclusion of metaphysics in human geography
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Grimes, S. (1997) 'Reconsidering the exclusion of metaphysics in human geography'. Acta Philosophica, 6 (2):265-276.
From its beginning as a systematic branch of knowledge, human geography was strongly influenced by developments in the other branches of the social sciences. Once a predominantly descriptive and ideographic discipline, human geography gradually took on a more positivist methodology. This in turn gave way to a series of approaches which included marxist, humanist and more recently postmodernist perspectives. As with similar paradigm shifts in other fields of knowledge, changes in geography were often attempts to deal with the deficiencies and criticisms of previous methodological and philosophical approaches. Because human geography emerged along with the social sciences, it was associated with the movement to distance scientific knowledge from metaphysical issues. From Descartes on a consensus emerged to exclude metaphysical questions as a necessary step towards the development of truly scientific disciplines. Within geography this view drew support from the influence of Kant and later on from the particularly hostile view of metaphysics held by the positivists of the Vienna Circle. Positivism was to take a firm grip on the development of human geography, moulding it to become "spatial science". Since the 1970s, a number of different approaches have provided a strong critique of positivist geography. Humanist geography in various forms attempted to counter the strongly deterministic perspectives on humanity presented by positivist and marxist influences. Some of these approaches have touched on the neglect of ontological issues, yet to date they have failed to examine the effect on the discipline of excluding a metaphysical perspective. The most recent development of postmodern geography, while it presents a strong critique of positivist geography, and argues for a greater tolerance of "difference", is nevertheless still quite hostile towards the possibility of incorporating a metaphysical perspective within human geography. This paper suggests the need to reconsider the exclusion of a metaphysical perspective in human geography, if the discipline is to make a more effective contribution towards helping policy makers deal with the many grave issues facing humanity.